Not Okay

Jake slumped in his chairs, drummed his fingers nervously on the table in front of him. He was in my office, trying to explain why church–especially this church–wasn’t for him. It wasn’t the music. Or the coffee. The people were friendly. The preaching tolerable. So what was the problem?

“Well, Pastor,” he said. “It’s just that the people here are so…so…so good! I’ll never fit in!”

I tried to laugh his comment off. Told him he only needed to get to know folks a little better–then he’d learn the truth. But the fact was, Jake’s words got to me.

Six and a half years ago–when I was fresh out of seminary and looking for a job–a professor told me First Denver would be a great place to go. “That’s a place,” he said, “where it’s okay to have a problem.” He meant it as a compliment. After all, as Richard Foster says somewhere, the church is a fellowship of sinners (albeit forgiven ones) before it is a fellowship of saints. The heart of our message is that we are not okay–but God loves us anyway.

I wonder what we might do as a church to make sure people like Jake don’t miss that. How can we communicate that really, none of us are “okay”? In particular, how can church leaders (pastors, staff, elders and deacons) model that this is a place where it is “okay to have a problem”?*

This is not the message we usually want to send. It may be okay for others to have problems–but not us! We are the religious professionals, after all. We get paid for this! We want to project an image of competency. Professionalism. Wholeness. Holiness! And like anybody else, we have our pride. So we’d prefer to keep our sins–and even our simple mistakes and screw-ups–well hidden.

But the truth is, they are always there somewhere. The truth is, we are not okay.

So: how can we help our congregations be okay with that?

____________________

*I’m trying to think beyond the so-called “homiletical strip-tease”, in which pastors air a little too much from the pulpit.

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